You can do what you like when you like without anybody telling you what to do and by what time to do it. You can choose to sleep in if you like. There are no timetables and no deadlines to meet. Retirement is what every man would like to do – for a while. But then you hit the wall. It maybe take 6 months or 12 months, but things begin change. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, comes the thought “what am I going to do today?’ and the answer is the same as yesterday and the day before and the month before that – and you feel lost. What was driving you mad before, is not driving you anywhere anymore and nothing else is either.
Anthony Brown from University of Western Sydney, writing to answer the question, “is retirement a health hazard for men” says, “there is strong evidence that much of men’s self identity comes from paid employment. A self-identity based, in part, on productive and valued work can be health affirming.” 1 He goes on to say “retirement can, therefore, represent a crisis for some men, as this source of self identity is removed, together with the other health-affirming aspects of work.
So after the holiday feelings have gone whats next? Where do we turn to regain a sense of self and a sense of value?
Many men turn to work substitutes. You can find endless list of things to do in retirement easily. You can even find some on this website! And I think its important to find something you like to do. So often, though, these do not replace the totality of work in the life of those for whom, work is so closely tied to their self identity. The other problem is, for many of us, these activities simply pander to the “instant solution” view of the world we get from our society. I think we should blame the inventors of instant coffee or the microwave oven for all of this! But this doesn’t always work. We go to the doctor looking for antibiotics or a pill to make us feel better straight away. We look for an easy way to help a grieving relative and after a few weeks expect them to be over what took them the best part of a lifetime in relationship building.
In his book “And the walls came tumbling down” Julian Boulnois (a psychiatrist on the Gold Coast in Australia) says “the cost of an instant solution” to many of these problems “can be very high, indeed, it ultimately creates more problems than it solves.” Pointing to Jesus experience in the wilderness, before the beginning of his ministry time, he suggests that if it took Jesus, who was the Son of God, 40 days to get through his wilderness experience, why do we expect to be able to do it any faster? So, he says, “don’t rush through the wilderness experiences because it will probably be good for you in the end.”
Another issue that’s often talked about in retirement is the lack of finances. Finance companies love to make you scared to retire “without enough money” because they hope you will give them more money in the meanwhile. Whilst it may be true that you may run out of money in some places and some circumstances, in Australia running out of money means getting the full pension. So finances are not as big an issue as lack of purpose in life and self identity. See the article here about Surviving Financially in Retirement.
Anthony Brown says “Retirement can also impact negatively on men’s social wellbeing, bringing unexpected isolation. Many men report that keeping in touch with friends made through work is difficult, particularly if those friends are still working, as they have less in common to talk about. For men in this situation, the lack of social support and resulting social exclusion represent real health risks.” 1 Of course this social isolation can be exaggerated by deciding to move to another city or another state. In that case, you cut off all those contacts you have built up over time. So unless you have another way of connecting with people, the isolation can become stifling.
So what is the solution?
My belief is we must find a purpose in life that is outside ourselves. Selfishness can only take you so far! Gratitude has a much longer lasting effect on your mental wellbeing and your health.
Studies over and over again point to the fact our happiness is tied to the amount of help we give to others. In his book “Flourish” Martin Seligman suggests an exercise to try the effect of this. He suggests we choose someone from our past who was helpful to us in some way. Then he says write a letter to them, of about 300 words, outlining your gratitude for what they did for you. The letter should be concrete and as specific as you can make it.
Next, he says, ring them and make an appointment to see them, without telling them what will happen. When you get to see them, sit down and read the letter aloud to them. Don’t allow them to interrupt you, but finish expressing your gratitude to them for their input into your life. At the end, discuss the feeling each of you had about the exercise you have been through. He claims you will be less depressed and happier if you do this. 2
The Place of the Church.
Finally, my belief is, you need to make sure you are planted in a church. Don’t waste too much time looking for the perfect church, since it wont be perfect if you join it anyway, but do your best to find a place you can fit in. A church can be the solution to your social needs if you can find some friends. You may think you might scare them off if you talk about your isolation but the truth is they probably have felt that same isolation too and would be happy to talk if they think its a safe place.
A church will also help you find your purpose in life. That purpose won’t be all about you! After all the purpose of the church is to worship a God who is bigger than we are and who has a plan for each of us. So spend some time investigating what the bible says your purpose in life is. Spend time learning how to worship God in a way that enables your soul to connect with your creator and spend some time “doing unto others the things you would like them to do for you.”
1 JMH Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 108–109, June 2008
2. Flourish, M Seligman, pp49.